Sound, Fury, And Bill Gates (4/13/01)
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Did you find it a little odd that Uncle Steve made such a big deal about the whole "unrestricted encoding" issue at the iTunes intro back in January? We did. We sort of took it for granted that if we wanted to MP3ify our CD collection, we should be able to do it at the highest quality that suited us. We're supposed to get excited about Apple letting us choose what encoding rate to use? Gee, can we send Steve a fruit basket for letting us name our hard drives, too?

Of course, now we're hearing that MP3-encoding under Windows XP (yet another Redmond attempt at a consumer OS that doesn't suck) will be crippled on purpose, in a sneaky bid to get customers to switch to Microsoft's proprietary WMA format instead. According to the Wall Street Journal, customers who use Windows XP's pre-loaded software to rip their CDs into MP3 format will get garbage out, since Microsoft "plans to severely limit the quality of music that can be recorded as an MP3 file." Meanwhile, the same tracks converted to WMA will mysteriously sound much better and take up less disk space. The obvious hope is that clueless Windows users will abandon the commie MP3 format in droves, switching to WMA instead ("because it's obviously better!") and thus further padding Microsoft's wallet. Gosh, we wish we had a monopoly to abuse-- it really looks like fun!

Now, the way we see it, this could play out in Apple's favor. Since MP3 is so wildly popular and has such a massive mind share lead over WMA, Microsoft's attempt to suppress MP3 by sneakily making it sound worse might actually drive customers to the Mac; out of the box, an iMac lets customers rip their CD tracks at any quality they like, upload them seamlessly to their MP3 players, and burn them effortlessly to new CDs. No muss, no fuss, and no proprietary media format being shoved down their throats. (Apple embracing existing standards over a new proprietary technology? We're still not used to that; thank heavens for the Apple Display Connector, or we'd be suffering some serious withdrawal.)

Granted, it's not likely that Microsoft's MP3-squishing tactics are going to send iMac sales through the roof, and it's probably far likelier that most Windows XP users will in fact switch to WMA as the path of least resistance; "all shall bow before Redmond," etc. Another possibility, though, is that most people tasteless enough to use Windows voluntarily will be so used to mediocrity that they won't even notice that their XP-produced MP3s sound lousy in the first place, and thus won't see any point in switching to WMA. Whoops! Gee, it's so unlike Microsoft to miss a detail like that...


 
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The above scene was taken from the 4/13/01 episode:

April 13, 2001: Sure, the Power Mac G4/733 is at the top of the heap right now, but in four months it might be the entry-level model. Meanwhile, Microsoft plans to promote its proprietary WMA audio format by crippling MP3 in Windows XP, and Apple plants full-time Apple employees in CompUSA locations in a bold attempt to improve the retail experience...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 2988: Top To Bottom In 4 Months (4/13/01)   Do you ever get that sinking feeling when you think about how much you paid for your aging computer equipment compared to how much it's worth today? For instance, when we bought our PowerTower Pro a few years back, we laid out $2600 for it-- $3100 including the used monitor...

  • 2990: Making Retail Suck Less (4/13/01)   Believe it or not, folks, Apple is listening! Remember that letter you sent them about your unsatisfactory shopping experience at the Apple store-within-a-store at your local CompUSA? The one in which you detailed a litany of transgressions, such as a lack of Apple-knowledgeable salespeople, an array of demo Macs in various states of disrepair, and a huge stocking ladder permanently blocking access to the latest Apple gear?...

Or view the entire episode as originally broadcast...

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